by Lana Spendl
When we were students in this new town, my friend Annabel’s house stood on a hill. A cracked staircase led to the front door, and inside, incense and music drifted in air. Throws beckoned from every corner. Sepia photos stood in old frames. And always something held magic for Annabel. Always something deserved to be opened like fruit with her hands.
One summer night — we were sitting round the coffee table with her roommate Ellie, whom I was dating at the time — Annabel brought up their neighbor from across the way. Her chin was tucked in as she spoke, and she gazed into my eyes with the shyness of a secret.
The old woman had differently colored eyes, Annabel said. She and Ellie had come across her while riding their bikes one day. They halted, feet on asphalt, to talk to her. But the woman cast such intensity upon Annabel that the young woman said her goodbyes quick, left Ellie behind, and pedaled away.
“You need to stand up to your fear of her,” from the tattered armchair, Ellie said. “You need to take her a gift. The sooner the better.”
Annabel pushed and pulled at the idea in her mind. Then she pulled her favorite novel from the shelf. Trumpet, by Jackie Kay. And in a line of three into the night we went.
When we entered the woman’s yard, its trees and shrubs cocooned us from the streetlight. Cats slinked in darkness here and there. By the front door, one jumped down from a ledge. Annabel knocked and waited. Self-conscious, I hugged myself.
The house remained a block of darkness. Annabel knocked again, gazing at the closed door, and then sat on the doorstep and wrote an inscription I could not read on the title page. As we filed out of the garden, she deposited the book into the woman’s mailbox by the road.
I do not remember what came of it. But sometimes, in years that followed, I wondered about being at the other end of the gesture. Hearing a knock at night and then a more insistent knock. Raising my head from the pillow with an ear to the door. Aware of the deserted street outside, aware of seclusion, danger. Finding a book among my bills the next day. I would look up and down the street, thinking perhaps that it was a mistake. I would wonder if I was being watched. I would carry the paperback into the house with dread.
But was Annabel’s neighbor of a different kind? Was she like Annabel? Did she make every out of place happening a sign? Did she cherish every phase of the moon and every sunrise with its pinks and reds? Did she see in them visions for what to do next?
On a walk in the wintry tangle of trees behind my home today, a turkey vulture landed on a branch. With closed wings it perched, turning head slow from shrub to stump to patch of grass. Three small black birds landed around it, one onto the branch occupied by the vulture. As the branch swayed, the large creature, center of mass unmoved, swayed with it. A minute later, it opened its wings wide, and I gasped at the size of it. It flew deep into the woods, and the other birds, like attendants, fluttered behind it.
Later, on a screen at home, I discovered that turkey vultures float on thermals, that they sometimes nest in caves, that they spot carrion by scent. They vocalize in grunts and hisses. But the words on each page — and all the experts in videos explaining bird habits with their hands — glimmered in my periphery like flecks. My vision was overtaken by the solemn red face, by ancient wings spread immense across earth, by my intake of breath.
Lana Spendl is the author of the chapbook of flash fiction We Cradled Each Other in the Air. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Hobart, The Greensboro Review, Notre Dame Review, New Ohio Review, Epiphany, Zone 3, and other journals. She is originally from Bosnia, and her childhood was divided between Bosnia and Spain due to the Bosnian War in the early 90s.